The increasing number of right-wing Jews who are praying at the Haram al Sharif or the Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews and the politicians who support them, are creating tensions that could ignite a third intifada.
In an early November article (behind paywall) in Ha’aretz titled “Heightened Jewish Activism on Temple Mount May Spark Widespread Conflict,” Amos Harel and Nir Hasson wrote about the volatile situation created by a movement among right-wing Jews to change the status quo on the al Aqsa esplanade.
Though few Israelis are aware of it, tensions around the Temple Mount are surging. Since the January general election, right-wing and religious groups have stepped up their efforts to change the status quo between Jews and Muslims at this ultra-sensitive site − a development due in no small measure to the growing clout of Habayit Hayehudi [The Jewish Home party] in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A variety of initiatives, some of which might be considered bizarre and dangerous, is getting next to no coverage in the mainstream Israeli media. However, the other side − the Palestinians, the Islamic Movement in Israel, even the neighboring Arab states − is watching the events on the mount with increasing concern.
In the past, Temple Mount activists were considered a fringe element who sought to damage the al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and advocated the rebuilding the Jewish temple. Today the most prominent and dangerous activism concerns the Jewish right to pray on the esplanade, which is banned according to an agreement reached with the Jordanian custodians shortly after the 1967 War.
Currently, the activists are people more acceptable to the Israeli establishment and who have their own powerful lobby in the Israeli Knesset.
[T]he Temple Mount for the first time has an active and significant political lobby. MKs and ministers who are pressing for a change in the ongoing situation there include Miri Regev (Likud) who, as chairwoman of the Interior Committee, has already convened several meetings on the subject; Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi); Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud); and Moshe Feiglin (Likud), who visits the mount regularly and has been detained there by police on several occasions. Also active are deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), and MKs Shuli Moalem and Ayelet Shaked (both from Habayit Hayehudi).
The Ha’aretz article mentioned an impending Knesset Interior Committee meeting to discuss legislation which would allow prayer on the Temple Mount. The Times of Israel covered that meeting, at which Palestinian and Jewish MPs participated in an angry shouting match. A four-minute video included with the article shows a security guard appearing to threaten to physically remove Palestinian MP Ahmed Tibi, who, with other Palestinian legislators, eventually walked out of the meeting.
Tibi, who is the MP who appears at the start of the clip, repeatedly called the Chairperson, Miri Regev, a “pyromaniac,” referring to the conflagration that could happen as a result of Jews praying on the Temple Mount. Standing at the exit, he reminded the Jewish parliamentarians that “the Second Intifada broke out because of al Aqsa [referring to Sharon’s visit there in 2000], and because of you [the third] will break out because of al Aqsa.”
As this site mentioned recently, the Israelis appealed to the Jordanians to allow Jewish prayer on the esplanade. The request was rejected. The post details a New York City gathering of settlers and their supporters last Sunday that focused upon gaining Jewish sovereignty over the mosque esplanade.
According to Harel and Hasson, the Israeli authorities enforce the prayer ban because they fear violent Palestinian protests. They claim that PM Benjamin Netanyahu does not approve of Jews praying on the esplanade. However, according to Annie Robbins’ September post, the violent actions of the Israeli security forces were aimed at assisting a large group of Jews to mount a provocative action on the esplanade during the Sukkot holiday.
Proposals for allowing Jewish prayer range from permitting small groups to worship there, to dividing the esplanade into two equal parts, one Jewish and the other Muslim. All proposals are seen by the Muslim authorities as an extremely provocative attempt to assert Israeli sovereignty over the holy site, a goal to which many of the Jewish activists openly admit.
Here is an uncritical and supportive interview with Yehuda Glick in The Forward. Glick is an American Israeli lawyer, who is a prominent Temple Mount prayer activist. According to Harel and Hasson, Glick misstates that the Israeli Supreme Court held that Jews had the right to pray on the esplanade. The journalists claim that the court ruled that the Israeli security services should determine whether Jewish prayer should be permitted.
On Tuesday the Washington Post ran this article about the prayer activists in its On Faith section.